“The next step in community involvement”: culinary entrepreneurship program launches at St. Matthew’s, Indianapolis

The Rev. Frank Impicciche insists that he decided to back the new mission initiative at St. Matthew’s, Indianapolis, before he knew it would mean fresh scones at coffee hour. Now that a culinary entrepreneurship program is underway and he’s had the chance to taste test four new flavors, including cheddar, bacon and jalapeño and sausage maple syrup, he’s even more excited about what’s in store.

“They’re good enough to be on any shelf at a Starbucks,” Impicciche says.

The budding group of entrepreneur bakers responsible for the tasty English-style biscuits are participants in the We Run This Culinary Entrepreneurship program, an initiative that began a partnership with St Matthew’s in May as a way to help young people learn culinary and business skills. We Run This is part of the Kheprew Institute, an Indianapolis community empowerment organization that has led programs in marginalized communities for more than a decade.

Like many urban parishes, St. Matthew’s has long collected supplies for a nearby food pantry and participated in other outreach activities. But We Run This, Impicciche says, represents the next step in community involvement.

“Food pantries supply an ongoing need, but with programs like this, we are partnering with Kheprew to empower people in their lives to go forward on their own,” he says. “That’s the difference between our outreach programs, which are good and important, and this more missional approach.”

The story of the scones and the mission they represent goes back more than a decade, when St. Matthew’s installed a commercial kitchen as part of a grant from the Indianapolis Center for Congregations. The upgrade allowed the parish to rent the kitchen to food truck operators, caterers, and other entrepreneurs who needed a commercial kitchen to make their business plans become real.

As a way to get vendors, including Kheprew, interested in renting the kitchen, the congregation began hosting a community day each fall on the Saturday closest to the feast day of St. Matthew. Vendors showcase their products and conduct taste tests and other marketing ventures, while congregational leaders keep an eye out for mission partners.

After last year’s program, warden Steve Albrecht and Greg Staab, a former warden charged by Impicciche with leading a strategic planning process, invited Kheprew to a meeting.

“Some of what you’re doing, we see that we could be doing at St. Matthew’s in partnership,” Albrecht remembers saying. “How do we think about food and serving the community as potentially another branch of our community outreach tree?”

At the end of a second meeting which included the Kheprew board and the entire vestry, Impicciche said, “there was energy, but we didn’t know what it was yet.” Then, after a Lent prayer service and soup supper catered by Kheprew, Scot Janz, one of the organization’s leaders who also plays the oboe at St. Matthew’s on occasion, told him, “We have an idea.”

We Run This began in the St. Matthew’s kitchen right after Mother’s Day with five students. Goodwill Industries supports the program by providing them with a stipend.

Rezon Coleman, one of the pilot program’s participants, has been involved in Kheprew since he was a child. He says that Janz and Tabitha Barbour, the two staff members charged with launching We Run This, approached his mother about the new program during a period when he was unemployed.

“It was a new area for me. It was a blessing and a new opportunity for me,” Rezon says. “I like what it stands for, in the long run, what the program is trying to do by bringing a broader outlook on these areas we are in, where there isn’t a grocery store within walking distance. There are thousands of liquor stores and convenience stores, but there isn’t a lot of fresh produce available.”

The east side of Indianapolis is the largest food desert in the United States, says Janz, which made it “even more vital” for Kheprew, traditionally a west side organization, to start a food initiative on the east side.

DaTuan Richmond, another program member who describes himself as “trying to stay out of the streets,” says We Run This helps him believe in himself.

“We cook, we talk to each other, we’re making a connection,” he says. His early ideas for new food products are rooted in his community, like Hood Salt for fries and burgers in flavors named after neighborhoods around the city, and Peacemaker scones made with red and blue berries that he hopes will bring gang members together.

“This could be an opportunity for them,” Richmond, father of a year-old son, says of his peers on the east side. “Taste the scone, find out about the program. I want to make opportunities even though I’m taking opportunities.”

Albrecht shares DaTuan’s hope that the program will benefit the entire neighborhood. “The idea behind what we’re trying to do is to be a hub for the community,” he says. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time. We can partner, we can be innovative.”

He appreciates Kheprew’s modest approach to launching the pilot program. “They’ve taken their time and want to let it grow organically. If it doesn’t, we’ll ask what did we learn and how can we make it better?”

Impicciche has served St. Matthew’s part-time since 2016, and became the congregation’s full-time rector in February as part of a vestry-led effort to devote more resources to mission. For him, We Run This represents progress toward realizing the bishop’s vision for the diocese.

“When Bishop Jennifer talks about transforming our neighborhoods, how do you do that?” he says. “This is how. We take the first step in the hopes that we’re moving in the right direction. We are searching for ways to be a loving and supportive community.”

© 2021 Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis